Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An unacceptable failure

Since network news has obsessed about the underwear bomber in recent days, I think it's time to offer my opinion on the subject. This -- in my opinion -- is the first major blunder of the Obama Administration. As the president said this weekend, it is an unacceptable failure by our intelligence community to let a man who we knew was being trained by terrorists to board an American-bound flight. This problem was supposed to be corrected after 9/11 when our intelligence agencies did not adequately share information that would have helped us stop the terrorist attacks. Clearly, that problem persists today.

But there also is concern that this is being turned into a politically hypocritical football.

FIRST: Any discussion about the need for full-body scans in the United States is bunk. The alleged terrorist boarded a plane in Denmark, so there is nothing the American-based TSA could have done to prevent the attempted bombing. Although I do not think our airport security is fully adequate, I do believe that a full-body scan is an unconstitutional intrusion of our civil liberties.

SECOND: It amazes me that Republicans are outraged that this 23-year-old joker (who burned his junk off while trying to light the bomb) will be tried through the American justice system. After Richard Reid -- a British citizen -- attempted to detonate a shoe bomb to blow up an American plane in December 2001, he was tried in American courts, convicted and given a life sentence in a U.S. maximum security prison. Where were all the haters back then? So, why are all of these conservatives afraid? Do you really think a jury full of 12 Americans are not going to convict this dude? If we lived by that system, then we should send Richard Popolawski down to Gitmo without trial, because we wouldn't want him to escape.

THIRD: It's becoming increasingly clear that if you enter any aircraft in our post-9/11 world, then you should be fully prepared to defend the plane and your life. The 32-year-old Dutch man who extinguished the bomb (and this Nigerian jackass) is a hero. He reacted immediately -- despite admitting to being scared -- and saved the lives of nearly 300 people. Each and every once of us should not trust any security measure. Whether it was this Dutch hero, or the people who stopped Richard Reid and his shoe bomb, or the 40 brave men and women on Flight 93, we must do everything in our power to care for ourselves and others.

And that is ultimately the answer to our safety conundrum. We must not wait for our government to protect us. We, the People, control more than we think.

(By the way: I would not encourage anyone to Google the words "underwear bomb" because it makes for several very disturbing photos)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas to all of our loyal readers. Hopefully it has been a joyous day for all of you and your families.

With the winter weather ripping through Western Pennsylvania, I think this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story from last year is appropriate. The story is about a winter portrait of a family living in the backwoods of 19th Century Cambria County. One can only imagine what it was like to go shopping for Christmas presents when a Wal-Mart wasn't just a couple miles down the road.

Reporter Patricia Lowry offers another interesting story this year about a different winter scene in Westmoreland County.

Friday, December 18, 2009

And I hope you had a good career

As you might expect with my news background, I have an affinity for journalists. That's why it will be sad to see ABC News anchorman Charlie Gibson retire after his final newscast tonight. While Gibson did not have the same legendary career as Walter Cronkite or others, he was a solid reporter before stepping behind the news desk after Bob Woodruff was seriously injured by an IED attack in Iraq in 2006.

In less than a year, ABC News had lost Peter Jennings to cancer and their current anchor was clinging to life at a military hospital. Gibson steadied the program, and soon made it his own. It trailed in the ratings to NBC, but not by much.

And of course, there was Gibson's tag line. "And I hope you had a good day," he said at the end of each show. It might have been cheesy, but it was a comforting ending to a day of news that often was troubling.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Son of Stimulus"

That's what everyone's favorite sun burned congressman from Ohio dubbed an extension to unemployment benefits.

There has been much commotion on this blog about whether people let go after June 21 will receive an extension on their unemployment benefits. Well, the U.S. House passed a $154 billion jobs bill yesterday to extend unemployment benefits for six months, along with numerous other programs, according to the Associated Press. The bill passed by a 217-212 vote, with not a single Republican voting for the measure (I'm looking at you Tim Murphy).

Now, this is great news and all, but it will not hit the floor of the U.S. Senate until January. And the AP story says this most recent stimulus bill will have a harder time making it through the Senate... God Bless America! Plus, our proud senators are very busy right now watering down health care reform and catering to insurance lobbyists. I mean, we can't expect them to do much-need plans quickly, can we?

Major Items in the Jobs Bill
-$41 billion to extend unemployment benefits for six months
-$36 billion for highways and mass transit
-$24 billion to states for Medicaid for poor and disabled
-$23 billion for teacher salaries to save about 250,000 jobs
-$20 billion to keep Highway Trust Fund solvent
-$12.3 billion for health insurance subsidies for long-term jobless
-$2.8 billion for water projects
-$2.3 billion to extend family child tax credit for poor families
-$2 billion for job training and summer jobs
-$2 billion for housing renovations
-$1.2 billion to put 5,500 cops on the street
-$600 million for improvements to airports and seaports

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

UC Exhaustion

I received a wonderful Christmas card in the mail this week. Twas from the lovely people at the state Department of Labor & Industry informing me that my unemployment compensation will terminate at the end of the month. Now, maybe I'm stupid, but I was under the impression that I had at least 52 weeks of welfare before it was exhausted.

Not so.

The letter explaining the process in June passed through several different hands, and we all thought it continued for a year. So, maybe I'm not so stupid after all. Or maybe we were confused that the federal government extended emergency benefits for up to 33 weeks. Too bad that extension ends on Dec. 19, meaning I'm a couple weeks too late to be eligible. According to the state's Web site...

Claimants that have a new regular UC claim for benefits effective on or after June 21, 2009 that are eligible for 26 weeks or claimants with a 16 week claim effective on or after August 30, 2009, may not qualify for EUC benefits under the current phase out provisions.

I spoke to a congressional aide for U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, and he told me that there are three bills in committee to extend the benefits. The previous extension was passed under the stimulus bill, which Murphy opposed. The aide was very helpful, but he would not say whether Murphy would support another extension. Considering he is a Republican, I would say the chances are slim.

I find it hilarious that the good people at the O-R would have done me a favor by laying me off just a few days earlier. If they had, then there wouldn't be a problem. Nevertheless, it appears those of us who lost our jobs on June 24 will be without a steady paycheck in two weeks. Or am I missing something in this convoluted and tangled bureaucratic web?

Lonely times

The New York Times recently conducted a poll of unemployed Americans and found a lot of obvious answers. I should add here that they didn't call me.

"The results of the poll ... help to lay bare the depth of the trauma experienced by millions across the country who are out of work as the jobless rate hovers at 10 percent and, in particular, as the ranks of the long-term unemployed soar.

"Roughly half of the respondents described the recession as a hardship that had caused fundamental changes in their lives. Generally, those who have been out of work longer reported experiencing more acute financial and emotional effects."

Uhhhhh, yeah? That's news?

Well, maybe a story such as this is important because it explains the daily emotional toll experienced by, we, the jobless. That is what I hoped this blog would achieve, although we've definitely taken a few interesting detours along the way. Many of us -- including myself -- are beginning to feel hopeless about the job situation, and we're wondering what the endgame is. All the encouragement in the world won't help until we're punching the clock again. In fact, this quote by a 51-year-old unemployed woman from Wisconsin says it all.

"Everything gets touched. All your relationships are touched by it. You’re never your normal happy-go-lucky person. Your countenance, your self-esteem goes. You think, ‘I’m not employable.’"

The story and poll numbers are a stark look at the emotional toll of being unemployed. Maybe it's just too obvious for me because I feel the same secluded sadness as that woman. But it also heartening to know you're not alone.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pop goes DeWeasel

I'm taking this time to announce my intentions to run for the soon-to-be vacated 50th state representative seat of Bill DeWeese. The most powerful lawmaker in Western Pennsylvania was indicted today on charges he hired state employees to perform campaign work, among other shenanigans.

This shouldn't come as a surprise because DeWeese -- among numerous other lawmakers -- has been under investigation by state AG Tom Corbett for some time. Details about Bonusgate have oozed out for the past three years, so it was only a matter of time before something happened. After the 2005 legislator pay grab, the electorate tried to boot as many lawmakers from the General Assembly as possible. We got about 20 percent through elections and retirements. But it's clear that the people who wield the most power to uproot the politicians are the politicians themselves.

It seems logical to think DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, will fight the charges, and try to remain in his seat. However, he will be forced to resign from his leadership Whip position within the Democratic House caucus. And I don't think the good people of Greene County will appreciate their lawmaker representing them under a dark cloud and neutered leadership status.

So, I would like to welcome you to the Bread Line, Bill, but I don't think the state Department of Labor & Industry offers unemployment compensation to alleged criminals.

And I guess that also means I'll have to find a nice piece of land in Greene County. After all, November 2010 is just a few months away.

(The editorial cartoon above was drawn in August 2008 by Rob Rogers of the Post-Gazette. He has to be licking his chops to draw tomorrow's cartoon.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Better, not bitter

“How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone.” ~Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

These days, I like to consider myself an opener of doors. Five months ago I considered myself a journalist.

I’ve been busy these past few months applying for newspaper jobs and freelance gigs, and I won’t lie to you: There is a tremendous sense of loss when you get laid off. And it isn’t the paycheck or the embarrassment I’ve come to realize is routine for nearly all of us -- it’s the loss of self.

No capes have ever been required for me to think I could save the day. All I ever needed was a couple ball-point pens and a legal notebook to feel invincible. I proudly extended my hand and introduced myself as a reporter for whatever paper I was scribing for at the time. And I do mean proudly. I have identified myself as a reporter/writer/journalist since I irked the Moon Area School directors by circulating a survey about homophobia way back in high school.

When some people talk about their first loves, names like Dan or John or Matt are whimsically recalled. Mine wasn’t a man, but a publication. And I’ve fallen head over heels with almost every newsroom in which I’ve valiantly battled the deadline. When I signed the separation papers with the Observer-Reporter in June, it felt like the most important -- most identifying -- part of who I am was signed away, too.

Since then, I have spent more time than I’d like to admit mulling over the layoffs, and all it ever does is fill me with a bile and bitterness. I wonder if it ever occurs to the guys doing the pink slipping that they aren’t just eliminating a person’s job. They are eliminating that part of the poor bastard sitting across the desk.

As the weeks tick by with no job offers in sight (and few legitimate jobs to go around in a tremendously competitive market) I’m trying a different plan. Yes, the applications will still be sent. Yes, I will continue to freelance. But I’m going to start using this time to develop the parts of myself I neglected when I was too busy classifying myself as a writer. This month I started a novel, finished part of a professional project and lost 10 pounds. I’ve learned to make a stellar casserole and have become domesticated enough that I am mulling aprons and once again allowed to bake in my home unsupervised.

While the job market rebounds and the newspaper industry learns how to compete in the world of free online content, I’ll be working to make myself more of a Renaissance woman.

I want to work on being better. Not bitter.

And I hope you all do, too.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for The Innocence Institute of Point Park University and PittsburghMom.com. She can be reached by e-mail at amandabgillooly@gmail.com

Monday, November 30, 2009

Making census of the test

McMURRAY, Pa. - There I was this morning, sitting with three elderly men in a bland corner room at the Peters Township Municipal Library, with a pencil in hand and 28 multi-choice questions at my disposal. The four of us arrived early to offer the proper identification and fill out the paperwork before taking the test. It was a bizarre scene that made me feel like I was in high school all over again -- albeit in an alternate universe.

Instead of the SATs or final exams, I was taking a test to gauge whether I had what it takes to knock on doors for the U.S. Census Bureau and count human beings like they were cattle. It might not be a glamorous job, but it offers a part-time schedule with supposedly decent pay. And, it's a good financial opportunity if the job market is still ice cold five months from now.

But back to the test. One man coughed and wheezed for a moment while filling out his paperwork. The elderly gentleman behind me forgot his ID, and needed to scrounge around his car to find a Social Security card and/or birth certificate (which I assume was printed in the 19th Century). A Census worker read instructions before the test, but the man next to me looked puzzled. He told the worker that he couldn't hear well enough, and asked for the instructions to be read again.

Splendid.

I rolled through the 28 questions, stopping on some for a few extra moments. I'm not really sure the point of the 30-minute exam, except maybe to sift through people born without brains.

I guess I have some semblance of a medulla oblongata (thank you Bobby Boucher) because I aced the test. So now I wait to learn if the Census Bureau will need my services next year. Maybe I'll even see my three geriatric test-taking pals on the beat.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Even in tough economic times, there is a lot to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving to all of our loyal readers, and please drive safely during the holiday.

And, yes, I know this is a scene from Christmas Vacation. But in the spirit of a classic holiday movie, it's turkey carving nonetheless.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The failed interview

It took nearly five months, but I finally received an interview. Sure, the job opening had nothing to do with my communications/writing background, but it was for a position in a booming industry that I covered while at the Washington newspaper. That gave me a lot of confidence when I walked into the company's Southpointe office building Nov. 11 for a meet and greet with middle managers. My knowledge of the industry surely would be a bonus in the interview, or so I thought

It turns out I knew one of the managers interviewing me. We went to high school together and played in the percussion ensemble. It seemed that personal background could give me an edge when they made the final decision of whom to hire. The 40-minute interview turned into a gabbing session about drumming and my knowledge about their industry. We shook hands and I left the office, fully expecting to receive a job offer in the next few days.

It didn't happen.

So now I enter the holiday weekend with at least a taste of what it is like to go on a job interview in today's market. The interview didn't transpire how I expected it would, but the outcome -- or lack of one -- shocked me even more.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Long odds

I received a rejection e-mail a couple days ago for a communications position at a local non-profit organization in Pittsburgh. Since it's unusual we actually get a live one, I thought this would be the best opportunity to see what my chances are in the jobs market.

The woman responded the following day with a friendly and detailed response. But it also confirmed what I suspected all along: Our resumes are getting buried beneath hundreds of others. She told me the company had received 130 applications, and two workers narrowed the list down to 25. From there, they whittled it to 10 possible applicants, four of whom they interviewed.

The woman said she has been with the company for 20 years, and never had this type of response for this position. That also means I had a 3 percent chance of scoring an interview. Seems like I'd have better odds playing the PowerBALL.

This illustrates the problems many of us newspaper reporters face while trying to find a job that relates to our former profession. It also might be an indication that a new and totally different career is the best -- and maybe the only -- option.

Monday, November 16, 2009

To whom it may concern?

Found this little gem while searching a local jobs Web site. The position was for a Journalist/Feature Writer position in the Pittsburgh area. Here is a description of the job ad...

A community based Healthcare organization is seeking an experienced JOURNALIST/ FEATURE WRITER to join its team on a part-time basis.

This position is responsible for writing and editing several publications including the production of our annual report, occasional press releases, executive speeches, and scripting special events.

The ideal candidate will have a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, or Communications with a writing emphasis. Previous experience in print media including editing is highly desired. Must have an interest in community based Healthcare, excellent written and oral communication skills, superior knowledge of grammar, spelling and sentence structure.

This is a part-time position that offers flexible scheduling opportunities. If you are interested in joining our team that values excellence and creativity, please submit your resume, professional references, and writing samples.

Now, if a job applicant is going to be sending his/her resume to a prospective company, common courtesy would seem to dictate that said company should at least supply its name and/or location. Maybe they're trying to keep this job opening a secret until they announce the hiring, but I feel a little uncomfortable applying to a business that could be UPMC... or ...Satan's Medical Insurance LLC.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Technical difficulties

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, but I'm experiencing some technical difficulties with my laptop computer. Hopefully I'll be back online full-time in the next few days.

In the mean time, thank goodness for Allegheny County's RAD tax funding for local libraries. I have a Mt. Lebanon library card, but I can use it to access the computers and books at USC, South Fayette and Bridgeville libraries. I wonder how the teabaggers would feel about that socialist plot to spread around the literature wealth? That tax is coming in handy as I'm able to drive just a few short miles to scan the Internet for jobs or pickup a book at the nearest library.

Anyway, from busted laptops, to hissing stoves, to broken house windows, to airbag deployment warning lights... the expenses just don't end. At least our public libraries are affordable.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Game over for job seekers?

As the country begins to pulls itself out of this economic abyss, one sign is not so encouraging for our future: Jobs. Housing is moving in the right direction and stocks are booming (is that such a good thing?), yet the job numbers continue to lag. Unemployment continues to rise -- albeit at a slower pace -- and there does not seem to be an end in sight.

Pundits across the tube are "pundificating" why people are still out of work. On one side, some say it's because President Obama's stimulus bill is a failure. On the other, they claim the economy was in such a dire condition that it will take longer than anticipated to get this train back on track.

The answer, I think, is much simpler. Employers are learning they don't need the same workforce to make their companies profitable. They are asking their current employees to perform more work than before to replace their laid off colleagues. The problem, though, is that the quality of the product ultimately falls. Take one look at most newspapers today, and you can easily see that the pages are thinner and filled with more wire stories. The reason? They don't have enough people to perform the job adequately.

Now, this is fine during economic hardship. But is that still acceptable when the economy improves? It will be interesting to see whether companies keep their current workforce or expand when their coffers bleed black once again. Sadly, I'm skeptical if most companies will ever go back to the dark days when offices were buzzing with plenty of workers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Last Lawyer

What lawyer would ever consider representing a man condemned to die? That's the question author John Temple asks in his new book, "The Last Lawyer." Temple has been a professor at West Virginia University for nearly a decade after spending the early part of his career in the newspaper industry, including a tour at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

In his new book released this week, Temple shadows a team of investigators and lawyers working to overturn a man's death sentence. Temple spent the past six years conducting interviews and following the story of Bo Jones, who was convicted of a 1987 murder in North Carolina. Temple writes about the problems Jones' lead attorney, Ken Rose, faces as he battles to prevent his client from entering the death chamber.

"I just wanted to know why someone would spend their career doing this," Temple said in an interview with The BLB. "It's not a job with a lot of obvious rewards. There's lots of conflict, the pay isn't particularly high, the cases go on for years, lots of people disagree with your work and your client sometimes dies in the end. This intrigued me and I figured there would be some fascinating characters doing this work, and I was right."

This is reporting at its finest. Unlike modern-day blogs that spew instant opinions and offer shady information, Temple immerses readers into a situation that is usually reserved to people behind concrete walls and barbed wire.

"Some are drawn to do this work because of their Christian faith and their belief in redemption. Others are drawn to it because they are ideologically and politically opposed to the death penalty," Temple said. "Still, others come to it because of their life experiences -- they were exposed to how the death penalty works and the system's flaws, and they become committed anti-death penalty activists."

This is the second book written by Temple. In 2005, he released "Deadhouse," which told the story of medical examiners in Allegheny County. While the concept might seem morbid, it offered a rare glimpse into the investigations and science behind suspicious deaths. Temple used amazing details to explain the story, and the book left me longing for more information about a profession that goes mostly unnoticed by the public.

Temple was one of my journalism professors at WVU, and he taught me how to capture moving narratives for feature newspaper reports, which I used numerous times to grab readers. I'll never forget the lesson he shared one day about how subtle details can make a narrative. During that lesson, he told our class about how he had an audio recorder hanging around his neck while taking notes at a scene for Deadhouse. When he reviewed the tape, he could hear the lapping of water against a river bank as the medical examiner assistants pulled a body from the river. It was the splashing wake from a coal barge on the Monongahela River that added another element to that portion of the story.

Details set great stories apart from the rest.

Temple's newest book went on sale this week and can be purchased online through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The Last Lawyer offers a gripping look at capital punishment in America, with a narrative that should fascinate any reader, regardless of their personal opinion on the death penalty.

John Temple is a professor and associate dean at West Virginia University's P.I. Reed School of Journalism. The 39-year-old professor and author resides in Morgantown, W.Va., and can be reached by e-mail at john.temple@mail.wvu.edu, or visit his Web site at johntemplebooks.com.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The electric resume

It doesn't seem too long ago when a job seeker had to search for openings in a newspaper, print out a resume, handcraft a cover letter and assemble a portfolio for potential employers. My how things have changed in just a few years.

Now, all we have to do is type a couple words into an Internet search engine, answer a few questions using a Web form and attach a resume to the e-mail. Although it seems to be easier than ever to apply for a new job, the process makes it impersonal and sometimes even discouraging. After graduating from college in 2005, I took great pride in every application and portfolio I sent out in the mail. But when I apply for a job today, it feels like just another cog on the conveyor belt to nowhere.

So while it's amazingly easy to pursue that new job, it doesn't have the same vibe. People often ask me how the job search is going, and I'll rattle off the number of applications I've shot out through the Series of Tubes. But it doesn't make me any more hopeful of working -- or even receiving a job interview -- in the near future.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

PG+ becomes a negative

This blog had a lively discussion several months ago about what it meant for the Post-Gazette to implement a paid members feature on its Web site. At first, I applauded the decision not to give away information for free. People should have to pay to read the content that the newspaper provides. But the more I look at the diminishing size and quality of the print edition, I'm beginning to think that PG+ is actually hindering the product.

I began noticing something was amiss in September by the pathetic Steelers coverage. Beat reporter Ed Bouchette does a great job, but his notebooks and other information that usually appeared in print suddenly disappeared. The P-G is hyping a Steelers blog and other coverage as the biggset reason to pay for the Web membership. However, I don't understand why the P-G is now punishing the people who pay for the newspaper to be delivered each day.

The Post-Gazette should put ALL of its Steelers information in the print edition, and limit the amount of available on the Internet. I plan on calling sports editor Jerry Micco and executive editor David Shribman to complain about why print subscribers are getting the shaft. It would make sense to offer the PG+ feature for free to regular subscribers. If their response is underwhelming, then I will cancel my $85 print subscription (circulation numbers are the bread and butter for advertising revenue) and sign up for the $36 PG+ plan. It makes economic sense for me, but I doubt the same can be said for the Post-Gazette.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A trek down memory lane

McDONALD, Pa. - My heart raced and legs burned the faster I peddled down the Montour Trail in Washington County. I wanted to see more of the countryside the farther I biked down the trail, although I had no clue where it would take me. By the time my trip had reached nine miles, I began to see familiar sites, beginning with a trestle bridge near this quaint borough that straddles Washington and Allegheny counties. Just down the road, I could see the Robinson Township Municipal Building where I covered numerous meetings and broke a few stories.

As I rolled farther down the trail, I came upon the putrid smell emanating from the Reaxis chemical plant off Route 980. Local residents were concerned that the plant could expel dangerous chemicals into the community -- it did during one leak several years ago that caused a few problems -- and they wanted warning sirens to alert them in case of another emergency.

A couple miles more and I could see the towering coal refuse dump owned by the Bologna family. Robinson Power Company, which is operated by the Bologna's, plans to build a mid-sized power plant using the thousands of tons of waste-coal dumped on the site over the years. It has been met by major resistance from local residents, although the township supervisors approved the power plant in 2006. The project has been bogged down in permit challenges with the state Department of Environmental Protection since and the future of the power plant is in question as financial backers hedge due to the economy.

This area is still beautiful, however, and the crisp autumn afternoon made it better. I went a little farther to U.S. Route 22 to mark the end my journey. The path re-entered Allegheny County in North Fayette and it felt like it was time to return home. The excursion was fun and challenging, but I should have been thinking ahead a little bit before enduring the 14 miles back to my car. That one hurt, just a little bit. From now on, I'll leave the 28-mile bike rides to Lance Armstrong and Greg Tarr.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Returning to the scene

We sometimes hear stories about laid off workers being paid a few extra bucks to dismantle their factory equipment and ship it to China. Or about the people whose homes are being foreclosed and they're paid a small stipend to clean out their own furniture and take it to the dump. Well, this wasn't the same, but it was bizarre nonetheless.

I returned to the scene of the crime - so to speak - by offering to freelance for the Observer-Reporter sports department and writing a high school football story Friday night. Covering sports is something I always wanted to do, although I got a little sidetracked in college while just trying to get column inches and experience at The Daily Athenaeum. After a couple years at the college newspaper, I realized I liked writing news and was good at doing it.

But my heart is in sports. So I spent my Friday night at Fort Cherry High School in Mt. Pleasant Township. The Rangers took on the Burgettstown Blue Devils (a school board I covered in my past profession) and won 21-19 in a great back-and-forth game. It was fun, and I felt the rush trying to beat the 11 p.m. deadline (made it by two minutes, by the way). And I received a lot of enjoyment reading my new byline, M. Alan Jones, on the sports section. It's a new phase in my life, right? Maybe it's time for a different pen name, too.

Friday, October 23, 2009

One if by mail, two if by e-mail...

"Don't waste yourself in rejection." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

The rejection came three-fold. The first came by e-mail, the second via the U.S. Postal Service and the last through no communication at all. I had tried not to get my hopes up (or allow them to stay there long if they drifted skyward) but that’s just not my style. I don’t do chill, calm or collected. I get carried away with big, lofty dreams and I crash hard when I get shot down.

Those of you who know me can imagine the spectrum of emotions. They’ve seen that movie. I get devastated, I bemoan myself, I consider plans for revenge (My name is Amanda Blu Gillooly… you killed my dream. Prepare to die!), then I sulk and then I get over myself.

It was harder to get to the “over it” part this time, though. I attribute it to the blow in self-confidence that comes free with walking papers. While the rational part of me (that little, tiny section) knows that it was dollars and cents, when has rational ever won? When it does, it always seems to be a fourth-quarter victory – and a close one, too.

But I did. After I bitched to my sister, complained to my BFFF Scott and broadcasted my angst over several social networking sites, I started to come around. And for the first time since rejection struck, I was able to see things from a more balanced state of mind.

Job #1, the managing editor position, was out of my experience range. A professor at the college I applied to e-mailed to let me know how much competition there had been for the position – with applicants who had ample magazine production experience on their resumes.

Job #2 was a freelance marketing gig I was recruited for, only to be unceremoniously cast off. Not only did I have absolutely no experience in marketing, but as it turns out, no interest in it, either. So why was I so upset? I guess once I get in a tizzy I roll with it.

Job #3? Well, that was a communications manager position I still think I’d be well-suited for. Requiring strong writing, editing and interpersonal skills, it was one I was pumped for, too. But I haven’t heard back. And it has been three weeks. So, while there may be hope for a second interview, I’m not holding my breath.

The rejection felt different this time, but it was essentially the same song and dance. What matters, as always, is what you do after getting the shaft. I asked myself: Are you going to sit and complain and binge drink or are you going to get back to the keyboard, send out some more query letters all the while working to re-inflate your own ego?

I know I should have answered: “Get back to the keyboard!” but I had already bought a case of Blue Moon and it seemed silly not to drink a few. So I cracked one open and began my story – and rejection was the last thing on my mind.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for The Innocence Institute of Point Park University and PittsburghMom.com. She can be reached by e-mail at amandabgillooly@gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yinz going Dahntahn n'at?

Early followers of this blog will remember my entry shredding our neighbors to the northwest in Cleveland with a couple hilarious videos. Well, I think it's only fair to reciprocate with a yinzer video of our own that made me laugh just as hard as the YouTubes in which Cleveland proudly proclaims that "At least we're not Detroit!" The video below is a take on Petula Clark's classic "Downtown." Anyway, here's a quick tutorial on Pittsburguese. I mean, we should laugh at ourselves and not be jagoffs, n'at.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The whim of a traitor

Although I have reserved "whim of a madman" for everyone's favorite shock jock, Glenn Beck, I think a new phrase - "The whim of a traitor" - should now be placed on another right-wing nutjob. State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe has gone off his rocker (again) by issuing a terse e-mail to a group of military veterans touring 21 states and warning of climate change. Now, before anyone goes off about the "Cap and Trade" legislation or its ramifications, I first would like to say that I, too, am unsure whether the proposal makes sense. But that's not the issue here. In Metcalfe's statement, he calls these veterans "traitors" and likens them to Benedict Arnold. Here's what he said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...

"As a veteran, I believe that any veteran lending their name, to promote the leftist propaganda of global warming and climate change, in an effort to control more of the wealth created in our economy, through cap and tax type policies, all in the name of national security, is a traitor to the oath he or she took to defend the Constitution of our great nation! Remember Benedict Arnold before giving credibility to a veteran who uses their service as a means to promote a leftist agenda. Drill Baby Drill!!!"

Now, technically Rep. Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, is an Army veteran. I spoke to a polite receptionist at his district office this afternoon and she said he served during the early 1980s in the dangerous battle zone of Germany. She couldn't tell me his rank when he retired in 1984. However, when I pushed the woman on the "traitor" issue, she agreed that these veterans are indeed traitors to the United States because they are endorsing legislation that could restrict coal mining. WOW. She offered a caveat that this is a free country and people can say anything they wish. You're right. That's why I'm writing on my blog that your boss is a flaming idiot.

Well, what if these veterans were touting pro-choice rights, I asked her. Anyone pushing a leftist agenda is a traitor, she responded. WOW.

Metcalfe, of course, is the same bonehead who opposed legislation to promote a Domestic Violence Month in the state because he was concerned that the resolution also recognized abused men. He assumed that meant it covered homosexual men, and that just wouldn't fly with him. WOW. This guy can't honestly believe half of what he says... right?

Although I doubt many who read this blog are in Metcalfe's district, I'll offer a couple of phone numbers for anyone else offended by this idiot's tired act. The Cranberry office is (724) 772-3110 and Harrisburg office is (717) 783-1707, or you can e-mail him directly at dmetcalf@pahousegop.com. The stupidity in this country is increasing each day, and it shouldn't be surprising when we elect ignorant morons like Metcalfe to represent us.

WOW.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Greeted by a hissing stove

I returned back to my house Saturday evening to catch a pungent whiff of natural gas settling in the front hallway. The stench was unmistakable, so I walked to the road and made a quick phone call to 911. As a police reporter, I called emergency dispatchers hundreds of times to ask them questions. Now I was asking them for help.

Luckily, the local fire department is just a half-mile away, so emergency responders were there in less than 10 minutes. They entered my townhouse and quickly determined the stove was spewing natural gas for unknown reasons. I'm sure they get some minor cases, but the first firefighter who entered made it clear this was the real deal. "Oh yeah!" the assistant chief shouted before retreating to his truck for more equipment. They clamped the connection and opened the windows. Within 15 minutes, the natural gas had dissipated and we were back in the house.

So today I went out in search of a new gas stove from The Home Depot. That's the funny thing about not having a job. Your income might be reduced, but the bills keep on rolling. As I swiped my credit card to drop $575 for the GE oven, I thought it might be wise to ask for a job application, as well. With the economy slogging along through Bush's Recession, I wonder if that potential part-time job might come in handy in the very near future. Especially after I receive this month's gas bill.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Maz-ificent game

It's getting harder and harder to imagine the Pittsburgh Pirates as a championship caliber (or even a major league) team, but the 1960 roster shocked the world 49 years ago today. It still is amazing that team, which won Game 7 against the feared New York Yankees, doesn't get the historical credit it deserves. Although the Yankees had outscored the Pirates by a score of 46-17 during the first six games, the series was tied heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 7. The Pirates blew a 9-7 lead in the ninth, but they had final ups in the bottom half of the inning. And there was scrawny Bill Mazeroski standing at the plate - a player known more for his glove than his bat - cracking the winning run over the center field wall.

While most of the country doesn't even remember this game, a group of Buccos fans and former players still gather at the outfield wall in Oakland to listen to the radio call and commemorate this amazing feat. In a city that has seen 17 years of abysmal baseball, Oct. 13 is recognized as a local holiday for a city starving for meaningful baseball.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

War is over!!!!

Congrats to our state Legislature for passing the budget! Pay raises and Pink Pigs for EVERYONE!! Thank you, state legislators, for performing your state-mandated duty 101 days late. If I did my job as poorly as all of you did yours, I'd lose my job... Oh wait!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A personal rejection

This time, the rejection letter was personal. Not only did it dash any hopes of working for a major newspaper, but it also was delivered in the mail and actually signed by hand. In an era of rapid-fire e-mails, the signature made the rejection by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Executive Editor David Shribman somewhat personal.

The Post-Gazette was the first job I applied to after getting my walking papers June 24. Expecting the demise of the Observer-Reporter earlier this year, I compiled my favorite clips - newspaper jargon for stories - and placed them in a manila folder. They sat there untouched for about four months until I pulled them out again and mailed them to the P-G on June 25. This was my opportunity, I thought, to work for a major newspaper and remain in my hometown. But with newspapers across the country slashing payroll, it shouldn't have been a surprise that there are no positions available at the paper. Shribman told me exactly that in his letter.

But the thing that caught me is he actually signed the letter. It wasn't written with the typical printed fake signature most companies use. I could see the divots in the blue ink he used to scrawl his name. That made me wonder: Did he actually review my clips? Did he personally reject me? Does he know my name? I don't need answers to any of those questions. Rather, they were just thoughts that rattled around my head for a few minutes.

The question now, though, is where am I going to apply to next?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

YOU'RE FIRED

This may be casting the net too wide, but Gov. Ed Rendell and every state legislator should be fired. Sure, I realize that some of our elected representatives and senators are on board with the current budget proposal, but that isn't enough. There still is no budget and many of us are starting to pick out Halloween jack-o-lanterns. We have waited three months for approval of the budget - the state constitution dictates it be passed by June 30 - and yet we still have nothing to show for it. Real people are hurting, and your partisan bickering is crushing us.

I challenge each elected official working in Harrisburg to forgo his/her per diem until the budget is actually passed, and pay back your previous expense checks. If this is unacceptable, then I ask you to resign. There are plenty of Pennsylvanians who would gladly do your job and earn your paychecks (including many of us breadliners). It's becoming more and more obviously you are unable to perform the most basic duty expected of America's Largest and Most Expensive Full-Time State Legislature.

The time for games is over. Republicans and Democrats, do your job or get out. Otherwise, everyone's favorite Pink Pig will return during your 2010 re-election campaigns to sling (or roll in) some mud.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The absurdity of the Summit

The G-20 this week was supposed to be an opportunity to showcase Pittsburgh. Instead, the city turned into a police state as 4,000 officers tried to fend off freaks run a muck. Obviously, we all expected this to happen, but it is very disappointing that many in the international press corps are expressing dismay that there aren't any real yinzers to interview. But would YOU go dahntahn and be immersed in the possible mayhem? These reporters have to be a little disappointed when they can only train their pens and notebooks on Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Steelerstahl.

Clearly, the most bizarre moment happened when a man in a bloodied seal costume crawled on the sidewalk with the anarchist mob. The Post-Gazette and their Big Story blog put it this way...

***The goal is to reach the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, where The G-20 is set to convene. How close they will get, even what route they will take, remains unclear. Nobody at the park had a clear idea, nor a single message.Near one entrance, a group of city bicycle patrolman watched a man dressed as a bleeding baby seal drag his way along the sidewalk.

"I think he's a seal," said the one officer.

In truth, he looked like a bleeding mushroom. The guy dragged himself until he got out of camera range, then got up and joined the others.***

(Here's the video that shows the ailing seal about one minute in)

I don't mind most of the protests, in fact, some are quite clever. But I sure hate those anarchists. Obviously, their title says it all. However, why do mom 'n' pop shops deserve their business windows smashed because their owners are trying to make a living? How are they a part of this globalization conspiracy when they're probably barely making enough money to keep the lights on? It's ridiculous, and I wish the anarchists many arrests during their recent vacation to Pittsburgh.

(Photo by Scott Beveridge)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The small business plan

By Greg Tarr
BLB Guest Blogger

Last month, I wrote a little about an idea I had to use my photography skills to open a small business. Some readers asked if I knew what I was getting into when I announced my plans to start my own business with a heavy concentration on photographing weddings. They didn't question my ability to handle the wedding day assignment, but wondered if I knew what preparations are needed to start a new business.

To answer that question simply, yes. I am aware that the business plan is a very important step in launching a start-up business. I certainly am not taking this step lightly. That's why I'm working with the University of Pittsburgh's Small Business Development Center. I'm also tapping the brain of a friend who developed his own business plan a year ago to start his chiropractic practice. Luckily, there’s another friend who just opened up a bridal boutique in town. That's a great resource for me considering we'll be looking at attracting the same demographic. A lot of time and effort will be put into my plan before I executing it by going to banks and asking them to invest in my idea.

Right now, I am not a business man, but I am learning. Photographers who produce less than satisfactory work can make it if they are great business people, and even the most talented photographers can fail if they are not business savvy. I am preparing myself and not jumping into the deep end without knowing how to swim. I am trying to be cautious and calculated without being afraid of failure.

I am not getting into wedding photography solely to make money. Of course, that will be nice, but I am really excited to document the amazing and happy event of a wedding. I've talked to wedding photographers from other states and they all love it. Sure there will be stress involved and bumps in the road, but like I said in the past, I've worked under stressful situations and feel that's when I produce my best work. I'd also like to add that one of those photographers is from San Francisco and she has invited me out to assist her on a few weddings. I’ll take up her on that offer once I purchase my own photo equipment. She is an amazing photographer and I can't wait to learn from such a talented shooter.

I hope that begins to lay out my plan to anyone who may have had questions. Please feel free to ask me more questions if they arise. Some readers have stated that they have a real interest in entrepreneurship and small business start-ups. I'm looking for any and all help and constructive criticism from people in the know. Don’t hesitate sending me an e-mail with your suggestions. I would appreciate your help.

Greg Tarr previously worked as a staff photographer at the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa. The wedding photo above was shot by Tarr in May 2005. He can be reached by e-mail at gmtarr@hotmail.com

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A happy Saturday in the valley

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The stadium shook and the crowd roared every time Penn State marched into the endzone. And that was during a 31-6 snoozer against... Temple? I can only imagine what it feels like to witness an important college football game here when the Nittany Lions play a real opponent at Beaver Stadium.

These people take their football seriously. Of course, most college football fans do. I should know, coming from West Virginia University where there are no pro sports teams in the state. Each Saturday, people from all across West Virginia gathered at Mountaineer Field to watch their team play.

But Happy Valley is different. From the thundering "We Are ... Penn State" cheer where the students actually shout "Thank You" to the alumni, to a slow motion wave around the stadium following the Lion's first touchdown. It's pretty neat.

Then, of course, there's that goofy Lion mascot, who must have fleas becuase he's constantly scratching his ears. He crowd surfs through the student section, break dances on the field and directs the crowd to a chrescendo of cheers before kickoff. But with the game decided long before either team took the field, my girlfriend, Tiffany, and I spent most of our time watching him as he entertained.

It's just unfortunate, though, that Penn State and head coach Joe Paterno feel the need to play so many cupcake non-conference teams (Akron, Syracuse and Temple) rather than schedule a real rival, such as the Pitt Panthers. It's all about ticket revenue from home games, and they certainly packed the stadium. But it's sad that most left before the start of the fourth quarter. Oh, and as for that giant S in the middle of the student section? It melted into metal bleachers long before the game ended.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Legal pad ambitions

“If a man constantly aspires, is he not elevated?”
-Henry David Thoreau

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

Like patience, time-management skills have always eluded me, as my BFF Candy remembers well. She had the misfortune of living with me during the most crammed time of my life – sophomore year of college when I was dealing with an 18-credit class load and leading the school newspaper as editor.

Now, while my classmates toted sophisticated planners, I had a veritable cornucopia of yellow legal pads for basically the same purpose. The lists would get updated as the hours wore on, with seemingly more “things” added to than crossed off. But by the end of that first semester, I had attained the dean’s list and managed not to burn the newspaper office down and/or alienate too many people during my tenure as neurotic, disorganized editor.

Failure was not an option. If I didn’t get the paper to the South Side by early Thursday morning, all the friends who helped put it to bed or design its pages wouldn’t get their due. If I didn’t get at least a 3.0, my Presidential Scholarship would be gone like the wind. If I didn’t get the story, it didn’t get told that day and worse, you might get beat. That is a travesty perhaps only another newspaper geek could understand (or really want to).

But there has been a peak and then a plateau on the motivation front during these past few post-layoff weeks. Yes, I have an occasional meeting to cover, and a few feature stories here and there to write. And my work with the Innocence Institute is the most challenging in my career. Even so, gumption is difficult to gather when you don’t have eight hours of your day automatically cordoned off for work.

Deny as you might, but I doubt I am the only person wallowing in an unemployment-induced lack of focus. For as much as I always argued that making people dress in crisp button-down shirts and khakis didn’t influence professionalism, I was dead wrong. It is far more difficult to center your writing chi in that getup, than say, a tank top, Capri sweats and fluffy slippers. Unlike coworkers, my cats don’t mind when I work sans mascara.

And as it turns out, “telecommuting” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. An inviting front porch, a case full of still unread books and a beautiful day complete with “Simpson’s” clouds each offer too many distractions for me. Don’t get me wrong: I’m no slouch. I apply for jobs and write for a local newspaper and volunteer for a nonprofit. I blog for two of my friends and colleagues and am The Most Awesome Aunt in the Universe.

But none of it is at the same intensity. When every day is an unpaid vacation, I have a tendency to relax too much. And I haven’t felt the same rush of adrenaline when you know you have the scoop of the day. I haven’t felt my heart pound when I submitted a story to an editor with a risky lead and waited for it to move through the gauntlet of editors. I guess the deadlines don’t feel quite so real or looming when you aren’t in a newsroom to observe them.

The point here isn’t to be nostalgic.

I suppose I’m just trying to remind myself and all the other bread liners out there that we have all the time in the world (OK, about 59 weeks) to improve ourselves and our crafts and get a new jobby job. For me, it is time again to focus on getting my awesome on.
Because I have noticed there is a tendency to sleep in a little later and drink a few more beers at night (because, perhaps, of said ability to sleep in). There is too much Internet surfing completed and too much football analysis consumed.

Well, for me anyway. And realizing the only corner of the universe I can change is my own, I’ve made a decision to revert to some of my pre-furlough, Type A tendencies.
But I won’t bore you with the details of my plan to again take over the journalism world. They are mine to mull and edit and perfect. And I figure even if I don’t get that plum job as a columnist for Maxim, at least I’m again competing.

Hard.

Because aspiring to be more is key. Almost as important as the legal pads.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for the Valley Independent in Monessen, Pa. She can be reached by e-mail at amandabgillooly@gmail.com

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"You lie!"

With those two words, Congressman Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, summed up the rallying cry of the anti-health care reform crowd. In that ugly moment during President Obama's speech to Congress last night, an elected official lowered himself into the political slop that has garnered so much media attention at town hall meetings about health care reform. It is no wonder that so many people at those town hall meetings have refused to even listen about potential health care plans or offer solutions. Instead, they have turned them into cage match brawls by shouting down their elected representatives and causing disruptions.

It is a sad indictment on our country that the days of civil discourse and discussion about important issues are gone. Congratulations, Rep. Wilson, for epitomizing everything that is wrong with our system today. Americans look to their elected leaders for guidance, and I will not accept this type of behavior from one of them.

UPDATE: 5:54 p.m. - The Associated Press interviewed some of Wilson's constituents in South Carolina, and they're overwhelmingly supportive of him and his statement.

"He's the only one who has guts in that whole place," said John Roper, an insurance agent in Columbia, S.C. "He'll get re-elected in a landslide."

Most of the other people interviewed for the story regretted the fact he shouted at the president in that forum, but still plan to vote for him next year. If that's what the Republican Party wants, then it can have him.

(Photo by Getty Images)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A somber afternoon

PITTSBURGH - It felt like I was entering a funeral home while walking through the PNC Park gates Sunday afternoon to watch the Pirates. The Buccos have lost for 16 straight seasons and were one more defeat away from achieving 82 losses this year. That would break a professional sports record for consecutive losing seasons. I was 9 years old when the Pirates last had a winning season, and today was the first time in my life I rooted against them. I came to the ballpark because I wanted to stare this woeful accomplishment in the face.

The game seemed to be going according to plan when catcher Jason Jaramillo chucked the ball over pitcher Paul Maholm's head, allowing a run to score in comical fashion. What else would you expect from the worst franchise in pro sports history. The Pirates clawed back to tie the game until Rick Ankiel launched a Jesse Chavez pitch into the centerfield bleachers in the top half of the 9th. I stood and applauded the Pirates' tragic destiny as Ankiel rounded the bases.

But it wasn't meant to be because rookie first baseman Garrett "The Legend" Jones cranked a single into the gap for the game-winning RBI. Many of the 19,000 fans in attendance roared with approval. I did not. I just stood there with my hands in my pockets and watched the celebration near second base. They escaped this shameful record for one more day.

Then I caught a glimpse of a father and his young son cheering next to me. They had been talking the whole game as the father taught his boy about baseball. That's when it struck me. No matter what owner Bob Nutting and these atrocious Pirates do on the field, they still can't take baseball away from us. There's no other place in Pittsburgh I'd rather be than PNC Park on a beautiful summer afternoon.

UPDATE - 9/7/09: The Pirates clinched their 17th consecutive losing season Monday and set a professional sports record in doing so. Congrats, and no luck next year.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Rejection No. 1

The e-mail was short and straight to the point...

Mr. Jones,

Thank you for the opportunity to review your credentials for Job XXXXX.

Unfortunately, we have decided to focus our attention on a group of candidates who more closely match our requirements.
Please continue to visit our website at www.#######.com for listed positions should you be interested in other opportunities here at ###.

If you have any questions please contact ########, who is copied on this email, at 412-555-5555.

We wish you every success in your career endeavors.
---

In that moment, I didn't know whether to be upset with the rejection, or encouraged that I finally heard back from a job to which I applied two months ago. That makes me think the numerous other positions to which I've sent my resume are still reviewing my credentials. I have applied to dozens of jobs without a response, and I considered that the rejection. No news is bad news, right? But now I know that it is a long, hard process to hire new employees. And it makes me hopeful the other jobs I want might still be within my reach.

I share this news with all of you because I want this blog to be honest and open about what it is like to look for a new job in this environment. I don't ask for your sympathy, just that you understand.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Health insurance should be a right

For most of this summer, we've heard both sides of the health care debate. President Obama has made reform a top priority of his first-year agenda as he tries to push a government health care option through the system. There has been vocal opposition to his plans, though, as we've seen passionate - and often angry - demonstrations against a public option. I really wonder if they are railing against health care, or just doing whatever possible to undermine a Democratic president. I don't mind disagreements about the plan, but there is a civil way to handle these debates.

But simmering below the angry debate are real stories of Americans hurting due to our jumbled health system. WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh last month featured Heather Sherba, a local 22-year-old woman who was seriously injured during the LA Fitness shooting rampage that left three women dead. Because she had just graduated from college and had not yet found a job (who has in this economic climate?) she was uninsured and, therefore, responsible for the hospital bills. Rachel Maddow discussed the issue on her MSNBC show recently. Family and friends held a car wash to raise money, and they received about $500. But that is hardly enough to pay for the entire medical expenses. I imagine she will sue the gunman's estate, but how much will she receive? What this shows, though, is a system that has too many cracks and needs to be changed.

I, too, have no health insurance because I lost my job. I have considered using Comprehensive Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) insurance, but obviously that is very expensive. Although the government will now pick up 65 percent of the tab, I still must pay about $145 a month to retain the coverage. That is a difficult decision when you do not have a full-time job while still be required to pay full-time bills. Hopefully I will remain healthy.

Some will say stories like these pull at our emotions and should have no bearing on the debate. I think they're wrong. Sherba's story illustrates the problems with our system. Although some will disagree, I believe it shows that health insurance should be a right, and not a privilege. How can anyone think differently in the wealthiest country on Earth?

I understand there are serious political undercurrents with every decision, and this issue should not be rushed. But there clearly needs to be a new system. I will leave you with an hour-long PBS Frontline special on what it means to be "Sick around America" and let you decide.

UPDATE: 1:30 p.m. - Just found another Frontline video about how several nations across the world handle health care. They are vastly different as "Sick around the world" exposes the positives and negatives of each system. I strongly encourage everyone to watch these two programs to have a better understanding of our own system and those elsewhere in the world.

(The political cartoon above was drawn in 1994 by Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It doesn't seem like much has changed in 15 years.)

Monday, August 31, 2009

P-G launches an online salvo

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has launched a War on Bloggers. Sure, we all knew this day was coming, but I think we deserved more of a warning. The P-G is adding a membership-only feature to its Web site that will require a $36 annual fee to access a major portion of the online information. I applaud the P-G for having the guts - and the content - to roll out this program. But why are they announcing this less than eight hours before it goes online at midnight?

For the past week, I saw vague advertisements in the print edition touting a GIANT + that didn't even begin to explain what would be coming. So we now have to react immediately by signing up for a membership that we don't entirely understand. I would suggest the P-G offer a 30-day trial period to the public, then pull the plug after we become acquainted with the new site. Otherwise, I'm going to wait until I see what content I'm losing before dropping $36 on something I don't necessarily need.

I think we're all interested in seeing how this works because the P-G is now the leading edge for online content. All I know, though, is that I just found a new blog about the WVU Mountaineers, and I'm going to be pretty disappointed if I lose it after one day. Plus, I don't know how Pirates Nation will do without the PBC Blog by Dejan Kovacevic if that is included in the package, as well. On second thought, to whom do I make out the check?

The closing door

By Amanda Gillooly
BLB Guest Blogger

In Stephen King’s book “On Writing,” I learned that he believed that while every wordsmith has her own style and method of composing, one rule of thumb is essential: Write with the door closed and edit with the door opened. That was like a ray of light to my career in newspapers. I stopped questioning my leads and running them in front of my peers. I think King was trying to advise me and other young writers to follow our collective guts when it came to storytelling.

I was lucky enough at the Observer-Reporter to work with reporters who never tried to point out what was wrong – only what could be improved. And through all those edits and all those stories, I stopped questioning myself so much as a writer. Mistakes are the reason the delete key was invented, after all. I was able to finally be writing clean and tight – two skills that had eluded me all those years since.

And here I am, sitting on my couch, looking at a box full of court transcripts and handwritten letters from a young man imprisoned at 17 for a crime he says he didn’t commit. I was super excited to be a part of the Innocence Institute again. I worked on its flagship investigation and received credit for the series, which ran in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I’ve been over every piece of paper. I’ve made lists of notes. I’ve read manuals and done research online to understand some of the legal things I just couldn’t wrap my brain around.

Then, last weekend, I visited this now-32 year-old man’s parents and younger brothers. I sat with them for two hours and in the midst of our conversation the phone rang. It was him. His mother smiled broadly and told him he had someone he wanted to introduce, and then handed me the phone. And after talking with the young man, and being thanked by him for my time, I felt too small to write the story.

I’ve made an outline, but every time my fingers try to flush out a lead, nothing comes. I’ll type a few words, stop, read what I have written and promptly erasing them. And with that sentence gone, only the blinking cursor remains – my enemy. I questioned everything.

The "what ifs" surfaced shortly thereafter. What if it isn’t good enough? What if my mentor didn’t dig it? And I realized that I lost more than my job, I lost the people who were always more than coworkers and more like coaches or cheerleaders. Since I couldn't turn to my podmates for a bit of reassurance, I turned to my familiar muses – I read some Emerson and Rilke and Thoreau. But nothing made me feel big enough to be able to do this story justice.

Then a voice from my high school years came floating up into memory. A local author, Albert French, told me that at the end of the day, a writer just has to fill the page. And I was heartened. I’d forgotten that we writers can be great or we can completely flub a story on any given deadline. But at the end of the day, the writer has to write.

So I ignored that mocking cursor and started at the beginning.

With the door closed.

Amanda Gillooly previously worked for the Observer-Reporter and now freelances for the Valley Independent in Monessen, Pa. She can be reached by e-mail at amandabgillooly@gmail.com


Friday, August 28, 2009

A new approach

It's obvious paper resumes and bland cover letters are not making an impact on potential employers. That means it's time to use every resource available, so I'm now trying to consider alternative resources by taking some advice from one of the blog's first readers.

"Roger" mentioned two months ago that it would be wise to produce personal business cards. I figured I would have a new job by the time the cards rolled off the printing press, but I obviously was wrong. Instead, I lost a couple of opportunities to sell myself. While freelancing for the Tribune-Review recently, I have met people who asked for a business card, but I was left empty handed.

I have since designed two variations of the cards to distribute to different people. I plan to have a standard version that will be given to sources while I'm on the clock with the Trib. The other template will be touting Michael Jones the breadliner. I'm not sure if this will work, but I'm excited about appearing like a professional again, and I advise my fellow breadliners to consider a similar plan. Thanks, Roger, for the idea.